Creating a successful internship program is an incredibly beneficial opportunity for your company. An internship program can allow your company to discover new talent that you may have never found during a traditional hiring process. These interns often bring fresh, innovative ideas and contribute an array of perspectives and skills. Having extra help will help ease the workload for full time employees. The interns can always take charge of relatively simple short-term projects. 

However, while the company benefits greatly from hiring interns, a key factor in a successful internship program is offering the interns with a substantial opportunity to gain work experience, take on responsibilities, observe and learn about the organization, and most importantly, be guided along their journey of personal and professional development. A good internship program is mutually beneficial to the company and the intern; whether the internship is paid or unpaid, they should be rewarded with opportunity, knowledge, and experience. By aiming to develop your interns, you are able to foster growth in individuals who may one day become an important part of your company.

Designing and carrying out a successful internship program by no means an easy task though. It takes a great deal of organization, planning, structure, and collaboration to pull off. In this article, we will be discussing key factors that a company must consider and take into account when creating and running its internship program. 

Understanding Your Organization

Before you can even start designing your internship program, you need to understand your organization and what will work best for it. Different structures will work for every company depending on the company’s needs, its resources available, the number of interns it’s able to take on, and more. Some things to consider are:

  • What are you able to provide interns to help them succeed?
  • What is your organization hoping to gain? Cheap labor? Potential hires? Is this program used as a marketing strategy? 
  • Are you able to compensate interns?
  • How many interns can you support?
  • Do you have projects to assign to interns?
  • How long will you be able to host interns?
  • Do you have the necessary equipment and space to host interns?

A successful intern program has the entire business on board, allowing interns to learn and gain experience from different aspects of the entire company. They will then be able to connect with people throughout the organization such as the CEO, senior or junior managers, and even people from other branches or departments of the organization. Allowing interns to feel like they are welcomed by everybody in the company, and that they want to help you succeed, will definitely make your internship more attractive to potential recruits. It will also allow the program to run more smoothly as you won’t have to struggle to allocate any necessary resources or help that the interns may need.

Designing Your Internship Program

Now it’s time to think about what your program will consist of, what are your goals for the program, what do you want the interns to gain and accomplish, and what processes and procedures need to be set in place to make everything happen? Every internship program will be unique to each company, but here are a few things to consider when planning your organizations’ internship program:

  • What do you want your interns to accomplish during the program?
  • Do you have an orientation in place?
  • Will you provide a handbook or guide?
  • What will your interns do on a day-to-day basis? What are some projects you will assign them to?
  • Who will supervise and mentor the interns?
  • Will there be a midpoint and/or final evaluation?
  • How will you conduct an exit interview? What questions will you ask to gather feedback on the interns’ experience?

Establish an Internship Program Supervisor

To carry out a successful internship program, it is crucial to establish an intern supervisor. They will be responsible for the interns’ experience, making sure that they have all the help and resources they need to succeed and pushes them to get the most out of their experience. The intern program supervisor will most likely not be the direct mentor of the interns, but rather have more broad responsibilities related to the interns’ success such as:

  • Help get interns settled into their workspace and into the company culture
  • Ensure that they are gaining meaningful experience
  • Train interns and provide any necessary resources
  • Help match interns with a mentor
  • Develop learning objectives and goals with interns and mentors
  • Communicate internship policies and standards
  • Evaluate interns’ progress and provide feedback 

Hiring Interns

Although intern positions are temporary, the standards during your hiring process should not be any lower than if you were hiring your long-term staff. While it may take a bit more effort to thoroughly screen and interview each applicant, having high-quality interns will pay off in terms of the high-quality work they produce, and also as an investment for the future. You want to have the best people for the role; it will cost your organization a great deal more by carelessly hiring somebody who ends up doing more damage than good. 

Additionally, intern programs are geared towards students or recent graduates. This presents an incredible opportunity to find skilled and talented hidden gems that you may not have found during your normal hiring process. You have the opportunity to professionally develop these generally inexperienced interns and allow them to reach their full potential. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, more than 50% of interns return after graduation as full‐time employees to the company where they interned, so these new hires may one day be the future of your full-time team. So if you want to optimize your program and its future benefits, hiring interns at the same standard as your full-time employees is crucial.

Have an Orientation Process

The success of interns in your program is largely dependent on how you – the organization – are able to integrate them into your company and make them feel like they have everything they need in order to be successful. This starts by having an orientation process where interns can learn about the company, their position, and interact with other interns and employees. The quicker interns feel welcomed into the company environment and culture, the sooner they will feel more comfortable moving forward and being productive in their position.

Internship Program Orientation

During this orientation, here are a few things that you should consider going over:

  • The mission statement of your organization
  • The organization’s structure and an introduction to each department
  • Introduce them to other interns and members of the team; allow them the chance to interact
  • Define their responsibilities and expectations
  • Plan a fun activity to break the ice and get to know one another better
  • Let them know who to report to when they need guidance
  • Logistics such as working hours, dress codes, safety regulations, etc.

Set Meaningful Goals and Work Loads

The goals and workloads you set for your interns are an essential step in their development and overall experience. You don’t want interns to feel as if they had no meaningful impact on the organization. Interns shouldn’t just be assigned busy work and a small section of long term projects. 

Interns should typically work on two to three big projects, depending on the duration of the program. These projects should have a defined start, middle, and end within their time at your organization so they can experience the development and completion of a project; it’s important for interns to feel like they have accomplished something important and made an impact during their time.

Just assigning them projects isn’t enough though, it’s easy for interns to feel overwhelmed by their responsibility if they don’t have a defined strategy of their goals. At the beginning of the program, take the time to put together a clear work plan, set goals, and schedule weekly check-ins so that each intern is set up for success. It may take more effort in the beginning but will make the rest of their time much more seamless and efficient. 

If interns need help formulating their goals, encourage them to utilize SMART goals. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timeline; utilizing SMART goals allows interns to focus on their priorities by creating narrow and attainable goals. This will help them manage their time and goals better to be more productive and less overwhelmed.

Conduct Exit Interviews for the Internship Program

Before you let your interns go at the end of the program, conducting an exit interview or survey is an absolute must. This is a valuable opportunity to learn where your internship program went well and how it could have better, from the perspective of the interns themselves. These interns will have a unique insight into the company and may be able to point out things that nobody else was able to realize. Conducting at least one form of feedback, either through an interview or online survey is crucial, but ideally, both can be used together to get the most out of your interns.

Conducting an exit interview is a great way to get feedback from the interns. It allows you to engage in a conversation with them to understand exactly why they feel the way they do about the program. You are able to go more in-depth and ask follow up questions about their personal experiences. Here is a video with a couple examples of important exit interview questions to ask.

Conducting an online survey can also be very valuable to gaining insight and feedback from interns. If sent out after the program is completed – rather than an interview during the program – they have time to reflect on everything that they have done and can have more valuable and thorough feedback. In addition, interns may feel more open to being brutally honest if the survey is online, as face-to-face interviews may pressure them to act more positively towards the program in order to not offend anybody. 

Stay in Touch with Interns 

After the internship program comes to an end, try to stay in contact with former interns and encourage them to check in with you every now and then. It’s good to proactively network; you never know, maybe they will be able to provide good opportunities for the company in the future, or maybe you’ll have a good opportunity for them. You can also offer to write letters of recommendations, or Linkedin recommendations as well. In any case, keeping these connections takes little effort and can be a lot more valuable than you may think.

An Effective Internship Program’s Success Metrics

There are a number of invaluable benefits and opportunities to gain by running a proactive internship program within your organization. With the right program, you have the chance to develop young, talented minds to provide unique insight and potentially even be the future of your organization. In order to build a program that attracts bright young professionals, the internship program should most importantly focus on the personal and professional development of the interns. They should leave your program with skills that they can confidently take with them into their future, whether it be at your company as a full-time employee, or elsewhere.